Stocked trout were always something I ignored. They attracted a crowd that fished mostly during the month of April. It was during April that half empty cans of corn littered my favorite local lakes and streams, and the crowds that lined the banks looked like they were there for a good old-fashioned seal clubbing. When we moved back to Bucks County Pennsylvania, I found that the hoards of April trout catchers had disappeared. Maybe it was because the state now stocks trout from October to December, and maybe it was because there are just fewer fishermen in this area. I wasn't sure, but it seemed that taking advantage of stocked trout would now be something that I could enjoy. During the past 3 years, my wife and I spent April and May fishing one of the local lakes for stocked trout, but streams seem so much more suited to fly fishing. Neshaminy Creek meanders through Bucks County for over 40 miles, and a nearby section was stocked with browns and rainbows. This stretch is located in Tyler State Park, and the park gets more than its share of cyclists, joggers, lovers, fishermen, and people who simply enjoy skipping stones across the stream. The section that is stocked with trout also happens to be the hub of most other activities in the park, and I was never in fear of being alone. It was good to see people enjoying a park that was usually empty when I lived just across from its main entrance over 30 years ago, and many of the regulars came to know me over the next month. During the first few weeks of April, I fished a pool just below a footbridge, and people would stop to watch me cast. There were other fly anglers on the stream, but they appeared sporadically. After getting accustomed to an audience, my casting stroke became a little longer, and netting was done with my rod arm extended high and just behind my head. The sort of pose you see in magazines and movies. I often heard, "Look. He's fly fishing" from the foot bridge, and everyone from young children to couples strolling past seemed to enjoy watching. This sort of attention was something that appealed to me, and I played it up for anyone willing to watch. While I released the many trout I caught, most other fishermen kept their daily limit...if they were able to catch it.
The end of April and first week of May seemed to signal an end to steady trout fishing. I guess I should say trout catching, as my trout fishing efforts had doubled in an attempt to find the now elusive rainbows and browns. The last couple weeks of April brought high temperatures, with several days in the 90's. The water had warmed, and I was no longer chilled after wading for hours in the stream. The smallmouth bass had begun to bite, and I've always preferred native fish. April may have gone out like a lion, but May was coming in like a lamb. The air temperatures had dropped into the 50's, and we had several days of much needed rain. Neshaminy Creek depends on rainfall, and water levels drop dramatically when the sun shines for even a few days. I arrived at the stream around 4:00pm on May 10th, and saw fish rising throughout the riffles, down the run, and well into the slower water downstream. These rises were too numerous to be trout, and the trout hadn't been taking dry flies anyway. It's often said that hatchery fish don't know enough to take a surface insect, but I don't know how true that is. The trout are put in the streams when the air temps are relatively cool, and the water is no longer in danger of freezing. The trout are quickly harvested in these put and take waters, and when the good hatches begin, it seems that most of the trout have become someone's dinner. That was all about to change, however.
I had already tied on a nymph before leaving the parking lot, and ignored the rises. After seeing a nice brown launch itself a foot out of the water, it occurred to me that these rises could very well be trout! This stretch of Neshaminy Creek is fairly tame water, wide open and slow. The pool at the foot bridge empties into picturesque riffles leading into a swift run. I tied on a length of 6X tippet and a #18 blue wing olive. After waiting only seconds for the next rise, I cast just above it and caught a healthy brown. Maybe trout fishing wasn't over. I quickly caught a couple more nice browns, along with a few 10 inch smallmouth. The weather was overcast, and the temperature was around 55 degrees. The anglers that had crowded this section were nowhere to be found, and I had all of these fish to myself. Even the rock throwers had taken the day off, and all was well in my world. Several feisty bluegills, rock bass, and a couple more trout decided to inhale my BWO. I was in heaven, and the only thing missing was a fishing buddy to share the moment with. While I enjoy solitude as much as anyone else, there are those magical days that seem better with a good friend. I've become friends with other anglers quickly on days like this, something that doesn't happen when the fish are lurking deep. Two bait fishermen finally found their way to the bank behind me, and watched as I caught a couple more trout. I caught a healthy brown (all of these fish looked healthier than any others that I had seen in the previous month), and they tossed their bait to where the trout where rising: everywhere! While they didn't have any success, I caught another nice brown. Its mouth was bleeding steadily from the small hook, and I asked these two if they'd like to take the fish home. They declined, and I decided that it was time my son tasted trout. One trout wasn't much of a meal for three people, and I quickly had a large rainbow for the frying pan. One more fish was needed to fill the serving platter, and I cast to a rising rainbow about 25 feet across the stream. He inhaled the battered BWO, and gave a great fight on my 4wt. Catching so many fish, and failing to tie a fresh knot means failure is only a matter of when, and that when happened about six inches from the lip of my net. It seemed sort of ironic that I that a bleeding mouth led me to keep the last couple trout, and now I had left a trout with a fly somewhere between his lips and belly. It was a small, barbless hook, and I left the stream hoping that the fish was able to spit it out like a watermelon seed. I caught 8 trout that day, and hooked a few more.
Two trout for the frying pan:
After a fantastic Monday afternoon, I was back at the stream the next day. The weather had turned colder, and the skies darker. It was late afternoon, and the blue wing olive hatch was better than the day before. I tied on another #18 BWO, and was able to catch a few nice browns. There was a rainbow leaping
just below the riffles, and I cast to him several times. He refused each presentation, but I decided to let him decide when he was ready, and didn't force the issue. Moving up and down the run, I was able to catch a few more trout, smallmouth, rock bass, and a few fat bluegill. Not much different than the day before, with the exception of the leaping rainbow. This is the sort of fish that makes an angler determined enough to cast for hours, and in any weather. While the weather was actually mild, I was getting chilled from standing in the water. I tried to get a sense of the rainbow's feeding rhythm, and made the best presentation I could muster. He finally took my fly with a splash, and ran from one side of the stream to the other. I don't fish light tippet very often, and tend to go as heavy as possible. The knot had been re-tied several time this day, and that gave me a bit of confidence, even if the fish was on its third long run. This was the prize, and I wanted this trout in hand. There were plenty of other trout rising that afternoon, but this rainbow seemed the most active among them. My son was with me, and he was able to see this wonderful trout run, jump, and plain old fight for his life. While my son doesn't fish, I often tell him that with a decent trout, the outcome is always in question. Once the rainbow was done with his long runs, he made a few leaps...this was the rainbow that was leaping for the past two hours. When I finally had the fish in the net, my son was standing on the bank, ready for a picture. He was concerned for this fish, and said that this trout deserved "respect". I assured him that he was fine, and that he wouldn't become dinner, at least not for us. These trout did deserve more respect than the trout that had been dumped into the stream just over a month before. These were the survivors: the trout that weren't so easily caught on dough baits. They looked healthier than the fish I had caught a couple week before, and fought all the way to the net. In fact, these trout fought in the net, and many almost jumped clear of the shallow net I use. My son watched as I rested the rainbow, and we left after he swam back to his spot at the bottom of the riffles.
Wednesday was cold, raining, and there wasn't an insect to be seen anywhere. The previous two days had given me enough determination to try everything from blue wing olives, to tiny chironomids. I was able to catch a couple small sunfish, but the trout seemed to have lost their appetite. Thursday's weather was warmer, with an air temperature in the 60's. I caught four beautiful trout that day, and had the company of a few other anglers. One of the park's rangers was present that afternoon, and I asked if the stream had been stocked again. When he said it hadn't, my best guess was that the trout were moving up toward the oxygen-rich riffles, and away from the open slow moving water. One thing was certain: these trout had developed a taste for the hatches, and I was going to do my best to serve a dinner of feathers and dubbing.
This isn’t a section of the Neshaminy I would usually fish Friday through Sunday, since the park gets crowded with anglers and people throwing rocks. No sane angler could resist this stream after a great week, and I arrived Friday afternoon to find more anglers and rock throwers. The anglers created almost as much disturbance as the rock throwers this day, casting large spinners, and heavily weight worm, lead, and bobber rigs onto the rising trout. It was little wonder that they caught nothing. The angler closest to me was using some of the heaviest spinners I have ever seen, and he eventually asked me if I thought a gold spinner
would work better than the silver spinner. I wanted to tell him that wearing an orange hunting shirt, and standing in the riffles were the first two poor choices he made that afternoon, but simply said, "Try something a bit smaller." He tied on a gold spinner that was even larger! Over the last couple days, a
rainbow began to rise at the top of the run, and rose in the same spot consistenly. He had refused my blue wing olives, Adams, and even the few nymphs I drifted past him. The spin caster saw this trout rising, and cast his hunk of metal right on top of the poor thing. The trout didn't seem to mind, however, and kept rising without a missing a beat. The spin caster finally left, and I had a go at this rainbow. I didn't do any better, and since I had caught plenty, went home. I was able to catch two trout each day on Saturday and Sunday, and even the rock throwers took notice as my reel's handle spun wildly a few times. This was the sort of week that you want to last forever, and I hoped that maybe it would.
A fantastic looking rainbow:
The following week provided good fishing, with more smallmouth than trout. The trout were still rising, and still taking my BWO's and Adams. Each afternoon provided a few trout, but the water was warming and getting more shallow each day. A few sulphurs were hatching, but I stuck with what had been working, being a firm believer in not fixing what isn't broken. After spending a couple of hours on the stream Wednesday afternoon, it became clear that the trout were not going to be here forever. There were fewer rises, and even fewer trout caught. I met another fly angler there on that day, and we cast into the diminishing riffles and run. He fished a nymph, and I kept casting a BWO to the sparse rises. He finally caught a nice brown, and I nearly switched to a nymph. There was a seam and small pool on the edge of the riffles, and this looked like a good holding spot for trout. The sun was going down, and I could barely see the little BWO. After two or three casts, a brown was kind enough to take my fly, swim to my net, and pose for a photo. I was satisfied, and walked back to my Jeep. I spoke with the other fly angler while walking back to the parking lot, and he told me that he was waiting for the results of a liver biopsy. He told me he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple years before, and the doctors now suspected that his liver may have been severely damaged. He had a calm manner, and said that he had a long happy life of fishing, and couldn't have asked for more. He wouldn't find out the results of the tests until the following Monday, and that's longer than I'd be able to wait. I've fished long enough to know that an afternoon on a stream can be therapeutic, and this fellow had a sense of calm that I’d like to believe owed much to fishing for trout on a fine afternoon. He had also made a new friend, and we chatted about trout and fly fishing for a while.
One of many healthy browns caught:
The weekend's forecast called for much warmer weather, and I decided to beat the crowd by arriving early. I guess everyone else had the same idea that morning, and it seemed I was the last to arrive at 7:30am. There were a few anglers, and they were standing in the best spots along the stream. I still had the riffles to fish, and caught a nice brown on a red chironomid. A powerbait angler was drifting his dough past the rainbow that had been rising all week, but couldn't be caught. This was the trout I spoke of earlier, and it seemed everyone took a shot at him over the past week. The rainbow suddenly took the bait, however, and spent the last half hour of his life in a mesh laundry bag which was tied to the fisherman's right hip boot. It wasn't as big as the noise it had made for so many days, but was a beautiful specimen of a rainbow trout. I considered pleading for its release, but decided to make small talk instead. The man's fingers had smudges of green powerbait, and he told me that he was able to catch the trout when he switched to white dough. I told him that I had kept a couple the week before, and he explained that he and his wife ate most of what he caught. He also told me that if they decided not to eat a trout that he brought home, they fed them to his cat! Nothing seemed more depressing than the thought of this fine trout becoming cat food. I decided that it would be best to leave that section of Neshaminy Creek. The bait crowd had returned, and in days the trout would be gone. The stream is over 40 miles long, and a more secluded section downstream held a number of fine smallmouth. It could be true that all good things come to an end, but I'll remember those 10 days in May for quite some time. I'm still wrestling with the image of the trout in a laundry bag, but I'll recover soon enough. I suppose even a cat deserves a decent meal.
The section of the Neshaminy Creek where I spent 10 days: